LGBTQ

The Equality Act Aims to Ensure Equal Rights for All

The United States of America is founded on the unequivocal belief that all humans are created equal and deserve unequivocal human rights. Although the Founding Fathers initially only intended these rights to go towards landowning white men, over the years, they’ve been extended to protect more and more demographics. Currently, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, ability status, or religion in the United States. However, there’s still a long way to go. The US still does not have any federal legislation that protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. That means that the decision to legally protect against sexuality-based discrimination is left up to individual state governments, but the majority of state governments have passed no such legislation. Only 22 states (including Washington DC) have passed laws that explicitly protect members of the LGBTQ community from employment and housing discrimination. In the remaining 29 states, members of the LGBTQ community can legally be fired or denied housing just for being gay, bisexual, or transgender. Until all Americans are protected from discrimination, including members of the LGBTQ community, we cannot in good faith claim to be a free and equal country.

A 2015 poll found that 63% of LGBTQ Americans reported experiencing some form of discrimination in their personal lives. Almost 50% of LGBTQ Americans have experienced workplace discrimination. 14% have been discriminated against on the housing market, and 8% reported discrimination at school. The unfortunate, infuriating truth is that discrimination is a common, unifying experience among members of the LGBTQ community. The Equality Act, championed by the Human Rights Campaign, seeks to change this unfortunate truth. If it gets passed, the Equality Act will protect all LGBTQ Americans against discrimination in the workplace, the education system, the housing market, and in receiving services because of their gender identity or sexuality. It would amend all preexisting civil rights laws, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Most importantly, it would allow LGBTQ Americans to exist proudly and publicly, without fear of retribution or discrimination because of who they are.

Many people believe that the fight for LGBTQ rights ended in 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states. Although that was undoubtedly a huge stride forward for the LGBTQ community, the raging debate around the Equality Act proves that there’s still important work to be done. Right now, it’s perfectly legal for employers, landlords, educators, and businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender identity. On a pragmatic level, this makes it difficult for LGBTQ Americans to live their lives openly. Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer can be a huge gamble, since LGBTQ people can never be sure how the people around them will react. The worst-case scenario is exactly what the Equality Act seeks to prevent — coming out might mean getting fired from a job, getting denied housing, and uprooting a lifetime’s worth of safety and security. On an ideological level, the fact that it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people makes it easier to excuse acts of homophobia and transphobia in people’s personal lives. By passing the Equality Act, the federal government would be taking a clear stance in alliance with LGBTQ citizens and residents and against bigotry and hatred. By explicitly supporting the LGBTQ community, the federal government would be taking a step to actively discourage homophobia and transphobia. 

Although the overarching goal of the Equality Act is to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, many of its subsections seek to help protect the rights of other demographics besides the LGBTQ community. For example, the Equality Act will help protect women from sexual harassment in public spaces, like restaurants, stores, and transportation by requiring businesses and service providers to explicitly address and take measures to prevent gender-based harassment. The Equality Act also seeks to eliminate the Pink Tax, or the practice of arbitrarily charging women higher prices for goods and services, from clothing to car repairs. The Equality Act will also strengthen protections for people of color in public places. Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, hotels and restaurants are prohibited from discriminating based on race or ethnicity. The Equality Act will extend civil rights protections to ensure that transportation providers, retailers, accountants, and many other types of businesses do not discriminate on the basis of race.

Additionally, the Equality Act will go a long way in protecting LGBTQ youth and parents. Under the Equality Act, all schools that receive any amount of federal funding will no longer be able to discriminate against LGBTQ students. This means that transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming students will gain the legal right to use whatever bathroom or locker room best suits their gender identity. It also means that schools will no longer be allowed to prevent students from forming LGBTQ clubs or student organizations. The Equality Act will also have a huge impact on the adoption and foster care system. Currently, adoption agencies and foster care institutions are legally allowed to deny prospective parents from adopting or fostering children because of their sexuality or gender identity. This means that many children in the foster care system are prevented from joining loving, caring, and capable homes, just because their prospective parents or foster parents are gay, lesbian, or transgender. The Equality Act will prohibit child welfare agencies from taking sexual orientation or gender identity into consideration during the foster or adoption process, creating a fairer and less discriminatory child welfare system.

As of 2017, 70% of all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, indicated that they supported laws that would protect the LGBTQ community against discrimination. Despite this widespread support among the American people, there is still considerable pushback against the Equality Act in Congress, the place where support for the bill matters most. Over the past three-and-a-half years, the Equality Act has been repeatedly introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Every time that the bill has been introduced in the past, it has died in committee. Most recently, the Equality Act was introduced to the House of Representatives on March 19, 2019. If you’re interested in doing your part to encourage your local representatives to support this bill, there are several ways that you can get involved. One of the easiest ways to get involved is to call or email your local congressperson. The Human Rights Campaign’s website includes convenient links that help you contact your member of Congress and support the Equality Act by phone or by email. If you’re looking for an even more hands-on approach, you can also become a grassroots lobbyist for the Equality Act. The Human Rights Campaign’s website also provides a 30-minute online lobbying course, which will help prepare you to effectively advocate for the Equality Act. Finally, you can search for events near you, where you can show up and do your part to support equality for all Americans. 

Until the federal government takes an explicit stand in protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination and harassment, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for LGBTQ Americans to feel safe and respected in their own country. The Equality Act seeks to make good on the ideology of equality that this nation was founded upon, which is why it’s crucial that we support it any way that we can. 

You can learn more about the Equality Act here, or follow the Human Rights Campaign on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

The History and Importance of National Coming Out Day

October 11th, 2018, will mark the 30th Anniversary of National Coming Out Day

National Coming Out Day originated when some members of the LGBTQIA+ community decided to respond to the challenges of the time. Its purpose was to help heterosexual people realize that they likely knew someone who was gay or lesbian, as well as to instill pride in the gay and lesbian communities. It brought together many things that, in the 1980’s, desperately needed to be addressed: personal acceptance, public awareness, positive mental and physical health, kinship, and unity.

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In modern times, National Coming Out Day (NCOD), is a day of both self-reflection and festivities. It’s an opportunity for people who have already come out tell their stories, for people who have been wanting to come out to take that first difficult step, and for celebrating how far the LGBTQIA+ community has come.

Thanks in part to the hard work of Jean O’Leary and Robert Eichberg, NCOD is considered by some to be almost unnecessary. So many are out and proud, getting married, marching in pride parades, that it can seem like overkill to have a day dedicated to coming out. But acknowledging the obstacles the community has overcome and honoring those who faced seemingly insurmountable odds, is also an essential part of National Coming Out Day. Being aware of our history and recognizing the challenges that were overcome, helps ensure that we do not take equal rights for granted.

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History

The 80’s were a particularly challenging time, with anti-gay legislation being passed all over the country, and HIV/AIDS escalating from a few isolated cases within the gay and needle-using population, to a pandemic affecting the entire world. People who came out in the 80’s were likely to lose their jobs, their homes, their friends, and their family. A Gallup poll in 1988 showed that 57% of Americans thought “gay or lesbian relationships between consenting adults should be illegal.” During this time, there was a persistent belief that HIV/AIDS was the fault of gay men. Early in the findings of the disease, the media called it GRID: gay-related immune deficiency. Despite scientists establishing early on that the disease was not limited to the gay population, that belief that had already cemented itself in the public consciousness.

Many citizens took their lead from then-President Ronald Regan, who chose to remain silent on the HIV/AIDS crisis. While the medical community was aware of the disease in 1981, it would take Reagan until 1985 to even speak the words “HIV” and “AIDS” in a public setting. Famously, he and his wife Nancy shunned their longtime friend, the beloved celebrity actor Rock Hudson, when he was simultaneously outed and dying from AIDS.

Founders

Jean O’Leary wisely stated, “Our invisibility is the essence of our oppression. And until we eliminate that invisibility, people are going to be able to perpetuate the lies and myths about gay people.” Helping the straight population recognize that gays and lesbians were also relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, musicians, actors, actresses, and celebrities, reduced the ignorance and “fear of the other” that was so prevalent in the during this time.

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Within the community, being treated with contempt, unsurprisingly resulted in anger. But O’Leary and Eichberg believed that broadcasting a message of fury and frustration, while gratifying in the short-term, would not be the most effective way to gain straight allies. And so they decided to have a day of ending the silence, while celebrating nontraditional sexual identities. They were confident that if your average heterosexual person witnessed people they knew declaring, “I am a lesbian” or “I am gay,” that they would stop fearing the movement and start seeing how it affected them on a more personal level. Polls conducted since have borne this out, and it’s part of the reason why National Coming Out Day celebrations are still popular.

A leader of the LGBTQIA+ movement, Jean O’Leary was frequently in the public eye. She came out of the closet in her early 20’s and then founded the Lesbian Feminist Liberation organization. It was one of the first organizations to focus on intersectionality between lesbians and feminists. She spent 8 years as an executive member of the Democratic National Committee. O’Leary was also an executive member of the National Gay Task Force (known today as the National LGBTQ Task Force), a nonprofit advocacy group which focuses on advancing equality for LGBTQIA+ people in the United States. During the time that she and Eichberg were working on National Coming Out Day, she was also heavily involved in the work of the National Gay Rights Advocates, a law firm which sought to advance the goals and needs of the gay and lesbian communities.

Robert Eichberg was a psychologist and a writer, who founded The Experience, a course in coming out to friends and family. He also established a political action committee which worked towards lesbian and gay equality. He once stated, “Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.” His book, Coming Out: An Act of Love, was considered a vital resource in the 90’s, for both LGBTQIA+ people and their straight allies. Tragically, at the age of 50, AIDS claimed his life.

Science has confirmed what O’Leary and Eichberg long believed. The ability to own your sexual identity without criticism or bullying by those around you, supports positive mental health. Taking pride in being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is a useful (if not always possible) step for those wishing to live authentically.

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Today

While the LGBTQIA+ population is still not universally accepted in the United States, we have overcome much of the mistreatment that characterized the last century. Marriage is now federally legal. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is no longer the military’s policy. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Act allows the Department of Justice to give aid to states in cases of hate crimes.

We have out and proud politicians, athletes, musicians, ministers, artists, actors, actresses, and military personnel.

Recently, however, with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency and a majority- republican congress, there have been setbacks. Trump has fought hard to stop transgendered people from serving in the military, and while his efforts have been consistently shot down by the federal courts, he continues to attack. Earlier this year he ended protections for transgender criminals, and now we have trans women being housed with men and trans men being housed with women. Only a week ago, the State Department stopped granting visas to the same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and UN employees’, unless they are legally married in their home country — regardless of whether or not that country allows same-sex marriage.

While all of this can be discouraging, it is also important to remember how far we have come. From the horrors of the concentration camps, to the Stonewall Riots, from HIV/AIDS to hate crimes, we have endured much. Joan O’Leary and Robert Eichberg faced incredible odds but their hard work and dedication brought us to the point where we can start to pose the question: Do We Still Need NCOD? All of those who have come out of the closet before us, all of those who will come out, and all of our allies, are brave and dedicated people. The measures of equality that we have now were brought about through activism and political dissent, and we must continue to persevere. One step you can take today is to make sure you are registered to vote. Another way to effect change is by joining up with LGBTQIA+ organizations — online or in person. If you are short on time, a monetary donation to the Human Rights CoalitionPFLAGthe Gay-Straight Alliance, or O’Leary’s organization — the National LGBTQ Task Force, are all possibilities.

If you want to participate in National Coming Out Day on Thursday, there is a list below of free events happening in major metropolitan areas. If you aren’t able to attend one of these, letting the people in your life know that you are LGBTQIA+ or an ally, is just as powerful*.

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New York City:

Los Angeles:

Chicago:

Washington DC:

Philadelphia:

Phoenix:

San Antonio:

“Openness may not eliminate prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.”

– Jason Collins, First Openly Gay Player in American Sports


*Please do not come out if it could be dangerous for you. No one is obligated to come out, and you know best what the consequences will be if and when you do. Remember, you can come out anytime. If that means this Thursday, ten years from now, or never, it is your decision to make. National Coming Out Day is there to give you an opportunity, not to shame you into doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re feeling unsure, please see these resources from the Human Rights Campaign:

Pride Month: A Look at the History of the LGBTQ Community

Rainbow flags flap in the breeze, a huge crowd of celebrators milling about underneath them. It's a typical weekend in June, and Pride events are in full swing around the globe. The people who come to celebrate have one thing in common with each other. They are either in, or supportive of, the LGBT community.

If you're not familiar with the term, LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. It is used to describe any person whose sexuality falls outside what most people consider to be norm. These events are festive and unique now, but their past is commemorative of a darker time in the community's history. June is considered Pride month in memory of the Stonewall Riots that took place that month in 1969. 

50 years ago, the world had a very different view of homosexuals. Lesbians, Gays, and others in the community were treated very poorly by the rest of the world. There were very few places that homosexuals could mingle without being attacked for their orientation. Most bars and clubs outright refused same sex couples. The only safe places to meet were at specific bars, which were regularly raided by the police. People were arrested, and the bar fined on a regular basis. When a police department raided yet another gay club, called the Stonewall Inn, it resulted in gay people rioting instead of just another crack down. The riots were violent, and spread much farther than the area just outside the Stonewall Inn. Riots started all over the map, in protest to the treatment of the LGBTQ community by police, and other people. 

When the violence died down, that might have been the end of it if it hadn't been for a bisexual woman named Brenda Howard. She organized the very first Pride Parade, The Christopher Street Liberation Day March. A year later, she organized another march on the anniversary of the first one. It was the very beginning of Pride Month, and a wonderful way to turn a violent and stormy start into a productive new beginning.

Source:  CNN

Source: CNN

Today, Pride Month draws attention to the inequality still present in today's modern society. Currently 74 countries completely outlaw LGBTQ relationships, and it is punishable by death in 12 of them. Even inside of some of the most developed countries in the world, homophobia can prevent members of the LGBTQ community from getting good jobs, or in some cases, even getting the medical treatment they need.

Many LGBTQ people find themselves harassed, or their medical claims denied, simply for their sexual orientation. In a situation such as HIV or AIDS, the denial of vital medications isn't just annoying or inconvenient, it can mean the death of the patient. Unfortunately, this kind of inequity is still going on today, inside the US.

Transgenders suffer in particular from doctors who refuse to treat them because of their chosen gender, or worse, wind up sexually assaulted  during their attempts to get health care. Fear of discrimination can prevent the LGBTQ community from attempting to get health care at all, which can wind up deadly if the condition they are seeking treatment for is serious.

Source:  CNN

Source: CNN

These issues are woven into the very fabric of nearly every nation. Events such as pride parades and festivals not only give people in the LGBTQ community a chance to express themselves in a safe atmosphere, they draw much needed attention to the neglect and abuse of the community as a whole.

Thankfully, events like these have already come a long way to helping the community gain equal footing with other sexual orientations. In 2016, the United States federal government ruled it unconstitutional to refuse same sex marriages, making it legal in all 50 states. Before this time, same sex marriages were up to the individual states, putting marriage out of reach for many long term partners. That same year, then President Obama declared Stonewall Inn, where the gay rights movement officially began, a national monument. 

Currently, gay marriage is only legal in 26 countries, and legalization only started 18 years ago, with the Netherlands in 2000. Australia is the most recent country to do so in 2017. Compared to the huge number of countries in the world, the privilege of being able to marry whom you love is relatively rare around the globe.

There is still a long way to go before the LGBTQ community can truly be equal with traditional partnerships. Progress is fragile, and can go backwards as easily as it goes forward. President Trump recently endorsed a recommendation that would ban transgenders severing openly in the military. This in stark contrast to President Obama, who repealed the original ban. 

Currently, President Trumps ban is not in effect due to court challenges, but illustrates the issues of today very well. Without continuing the fight and keeping gay rights in the forefront of everyone's mind, these issues will continue to plague the LGBTQ community.

Despite the challenges they face every day, the LGBTQ community is still alive and strong, and these festivals are a testament to progress. While a parade or festival may seem like an odd way to bring a bout social justice, it helps bring important light to what is going on in the community. It gives people a chance to think about why it is okay for one NFL player to kiss his girlfriend on television—but not okay for another to kiss his boyfriend in the same fashion.

These festivals give people of the LGBTQ community a chance to show themselves safely, and to give people a chance to see they are very real and very normal. With more support being gained through these festivals, they can change the world, and make it better for everyone, one rainbow flag at a time.